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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/34/52)

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Note by the Secretariat

In his report, prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 66/164 and 68/181 and Human Rights Council resolutions 16/5 and 25/18, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, provides a detailed summary of the activities he carried out during his first mandate, including statistics and trends based on the communications that he sent to States, his visits to a number of countries, the dialogues established with the authorities of various States, and the close cooperation developed with key stakeholders in the protection of human rights worldwide. The Special Rapporteur also presents the work in progress and the challenges and issues on which he plans to focus during his next mandate. The report includes suggestions for diversifying working methods, broadening the scope of cooperation with other key actors, and enhancing the visibility and accessibility of his mandate. Human rights defenders and the promotion of their work and their protection will remain at the core of the Special Rapporteur’s work.

I. Introduction

  1. After spending the past three years travelling around the world and documenting the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur is more appalled than ever to see attacks against them multiplying everywhere, assailing bloggers, indigenous peoples, journalists, community leaders, whistle-blowers and community volunteers. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has become convinced that the incidents in question are not isolated acts but concerted attacks against those who try to embody the ideal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a world free from fear and want.

  2. The Special Rapporteur is concerned by the lack of response to observations that have been made repeatedly since the establishment of the mandate. Even the reports of his predecessors Hina Jilani and Margaret Sekaggya made mention of certain difficulties and of the lack of strong and ambitious political action aimed at bringing a lasting end to attacks against defenders. How many human tragedies, how many imprisoned, tortured and murdered defenders must there be before the world realizes that such people are the lifeblood that our democracies need in order to flourish and survive over time?

  3. We must be bolder and more creative in order to face up to threats that weigh heavily on civil society as a whole and on every individual fighting for fundamental rights and freedoms. The Special Rapporteur has also noted that intolerance thrives in part because people know little about their rights or the role of those who protect them. In that regard, it is more vital than ever to make the language of human rights accessible to all in order to ensure that civil society continues to enforce accountability.

  4. The Special Rapporteur also believes that efforts and resources must be directed at ensuring that States respect the commitments that they have made. In recent decades, many standards of human rights protection have been adopted at the international level. The Special Rapporteur has observed that these standards, for the most part, are not implemented on the ground and that, when they are, they are too often applied haphazardly. In time, if these standards remain ineffective, we risk seeing entire populations lose hope and turn away from the struggle for human rights. As a matter of urgency, these standards must therefore become a reality on the ground.

  5. The Special Rapporteur has decided that the present report should focus on the activities carried out between June 2014 and March 2017 (the period corresponding to his first mandate) to ensure that they are brought to the attention of the States and actors with which he has regularly engaged. This report is also an opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to give an account of his work to the many human rights defenders who, in complete confidence, have collaborated with him and his team over the past three years and, in some cases, exposed themselves to reprisals simply for having confided their tragic situations to him. The Special Rapporteur still recalls the words, expressions and smiles of the hundreds of defenders he met during those three years and feels responsible for the way in which the international community responds to their hopes and expectations.

  6. As defenders face unprecedented attacks intended to undermine the legitimacy, credibility and sincerity of their commitment, it seems essential to quickly establish links between the specific actions undertaken by the Special Rapporteur and the pledges made at the United Nations when he was appointed in 2014. As populist, nationalist and fundamentalist movements of all kinds multiply, the Special Rapporteur remains convinced that more can be done under his mandate and that his office must continue to serve as a watchdog, a warning mechanism and a crucial resource for thousands of people.

  7. Like his predecessors, the Special Rapporteur has sought to develop innovative working methods in order to be more effective and to better respond to defenders’ need for protection. This commitment to action is meaningful only if it is accompanied by objective assessments. That is why, in his view, it was essential to spend time reflecting on what has been implemented in order to analyse and assess the impact of all the work that he and his team have carried out over nearly three years. To that end, this report takes stock of the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. It also identifies those areas in which, in view of the possible renewal of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur intends to become more involved so that his work remains relevant and responds as effectively as possible to defenders’ expectations. This report should be seen not as an exhaustive exercise, but as a mirror held up to the action plan established in October 2014 (A/69/259).

  8. Through this report, the Special Rapporteur has also sought to give a voice to those who, whether individually or through their organizations, worked with him within the framework of his mandate and made it possible to implement his road map.